Oct 19 2009

Bull Rushing a Bear (Job) Market

Published by at 11:22 pm under Miscellaneous

Since we have entered law school we have been inundated with gloom and doom advice about the state of the legal economy.  Each week’s ABA newsletter last year seemed to highlight another several hundred jobs cut at some big city firm, partner’s asked to give up some job perk, and ominous undertones implying those of us still in school would not likely find work.  Being a first year student I felt the same way I felt about all tragedies that didn’t directly effect  me… so what?  But as months went on, and I heard nightmares of recent graduates, it occurred to me that there had to be a solution for this predicament of too many lawyers not enough jobs.  This post is my answer, which will inevitably be ignored:

Now I admit that I am not a brilliant economic mind.  In fact, economics is the primary reason I changed majors in undergrad, eventually leading me to law school.  But I think I have a handle on the basics, and the legal job market seems to be a pretty basic concept to me.  As supply goes up, demand goes down.  Profound, ain’t it?  But believe it or not there are a finite number of legal problems in America; as we continue to fill the job market with new lawyers it resembles a cup under the faucet (or spicket, if you are from North Carolina).  If we do not soon turn off the faucet, we are left with a big mess.  This seems to be the only logical solution, since lawyers have already tried the opposite approach, creating more problems to support the growing field.

To clarify “turning off the faucet,” I mean regulation.  A nationwide proposal amongst every accredited law school in country to not accept a class of 2013.  To draw an academic parallel, no less a groan from my classmates, you will recall the Supreme Court tried this in Wickard.  The government said stop producing this product in excess because doing so is dragging down the national post-depression economy.  Needless to say we are again in a post-recession/depression economy, and need to be particularly cognizant of society’s needs.  I foresee two primary benefits to this approach.  First, we take some small measure to thin out the “job-seeking” crowd.  By reducing the denominator in the jobs to lawyers ratio, we would ever so slightly lower unemployment.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly it would strengthen the talent of the next class that is produced.  Having twice the population competing for the same number of spots allows only the best to continue their training, instead of simply applying until you get accepted somewhere. 

The obvious argument against is that this would be “bad for business.”  But, I have to question the validity of this.  One of my numerous and sordid jobs prior to law school was working at the Maryland Fund for Excellence.  You know us as, “Hi.  I’m from your college.  Give us money!”  In any case, one of the facts from our script was that state funds (at a state school) only covered about 50% of the cost of a student’s education.  Now, couple this with another fact.  I had the occasion to meet the associate dean of one of our near peer law schools over summer break.  This person said they had admitted over 220 students into the Class of 2012.  Now for the hypothetical…

If there are 200 students at 100 recognized law schools, creating a 50% of 1 student’s tuition deficit [let’s round it off at 40,000/year, though Elon is markedly less].  This is 20,000 students times 20,000 dollars, creating a $400 million deficit.  Traditionally, this is covered by raising tuition rates for students for whom, as it stands, there are bleak job prospects at the end of the line.  If we were to cut a class for a year we would not only lower the variable costs of running the business, but allow professors with newly found free time to pursue new methods of teaching and research.   This has the collateral effect of adding value to the teacher, and perhaps, the school.  This way, perhaps we would produce better lawyers, instead of just more…

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